Jun 15, 2007

A Lexus? Or a Hummer?

So Wednesday I had to attend a compulsory workshop held by the Maryland Employment Department that is supposed to help us unemployment collectors in our job search. I'll admit that I didn't expect much from this venture, given my past experience with state employment agencies (about which more later).

Unfortunately, my expectations were proved correct.

The day didn't begin well. I woke up late, so I had no time for either coffee or the mandatory (for me) hour of silence I need before I go out and face the world. And there's nothing worse than attending a 5-hour workshop coffeeless, breakfastless and without my morning meditation, which generally consists of slurping three cups of coffee while watching the news and reading my email.

We were told by letter that we were to attend a two-day workshop that began on Wednesday, June 13, the assumption being that it finished up on June 14. Instead we were told upon arrival that the "verbiage" of the letter was "vague" and that the second day was to be held on Friday. Fine. Those of us who had interviews scheduled for Friday, that would be me, would have to come the following Friday. Now, since the classes are always held on Wednesday and Friday, because they can't get access to the facility on Thursday, wouldn't it be wise to change the "verbiage" in this form letter to reflect that reality?

About 10 minutes into the presentation--given with the aid of overhead transparencies--who should enter the class and make her way up to the front row with a loud, "sorry, excuse me, sorry," but Jillian (not her real name), my arch nemesis from my last job. Jillian is one of those people who's always late and always apologizing for it. She really deserves a blog post--or a series of posts--all by herself. For now I'll just say that the mere sight of her fills me with an explosive rage. Indeed, one of the bonuses of losing my job was that I'd never have to see Jillian again. But here I was staring at the back of her head.

So we get started by going around the room and introducing ourselves. Then we go over the agenda, which will consist of:

  • Interviewing techniques
  • Networking
  • Resume information
  • Cover letters
  • The application process
  • Search planning
  • Search resources
  • Thank you notes and letters
  • Labor Market Information

This is not exactly how it went, however. Instead, we spent a half an hour learning what would happen to us if we didn't attend the workshop, along with anecdotes and horror stories. Then we spent a half hour going over how to fill in the form in our work search booklets to account for the fact that we attended the two-day workshop.

Then the instructor's partner went up to the blackboard to prepare a list. We were asked to shout out the things we wanted from a job. Then we were asked to shout out the things employers wanted from us. I could probably have taken this more seriously, if we hadn't kept pausing while the blackboard writer consulted a man in the first row as to which color chalk worked better on the list. When it was decided that the blue she opted to use for the employer's needs wasn't quite right, she began going over our answers on the chalkboard with a lovely shade of pink. And we just sat and watched her as she completed the process.

Then we took a break.

Upon our return, we were told to do an exercise that consisted of circling the thing with which we most identified on the following list:
    Lexus or Hummer
    Boston or Los Angeles
    Popcorn or Snickers bar
    Lake or Ocean
    Birdor Cat
    Piano or Violin
    Damor Bridge
    Sugaror Garlic
    Bat or Ball
    New Year's Eve or Valentine's Day
    Europe or Australia
    Roller skates or Bicycle
    The moon or The sun
    Speedboat or Sailboat
    Apple or A whopper
    Orange or Blue
    Mountains or Beach
    Rock concert or The symphony
    Monopoly or Video games

What followed had the dark inevitability of a Greek tragedy as the instructor went down the list asking who voted for each item.

Why, the instructor wanted to know, did the fellow to my left opt for a Lexus over a Hummer?

"Because the Hummer's stupid. It's just a tricked out army vehicle made popular by celebrities."

Wrong answer. It seems Hummer people are more hands on than Lexus people, who prefer to sit in an air conditioned office not getting their hands dirty. And on it went. We were considering the implications of choosing sugar over garlic when I raised my hand.
Yes, the instructor asked.

"You know this is complete and utter bullshit."

I'm sorry you feel that way, ma'am, but this is designed to get you thinking about what you want to do with your life, quoth she.

"It's totally meaningless. Sometimes I prefer garlic and sometimes I want sugar. And I couldn't care less about either a Lexus or a Hummer. I vote for neither.

Well, ma'am, I got this from a Maryland Employment conference and many folks think it's quite helpful, said the instructor, getting defensive.
It degenerated quite a bit from there, with some people shouting out agreement with me. The instructor offered to go on to something else. But she changed her mind when one wiseacre out of a class of 40 said he wanted to continue. So she continued going down the list. But her heart wasn't in it.

Now, I'm pretty sure I could have learned something from a job search workshop that actually covered the agenda we were supposed to cover. I would have particularly welcomed input on the interview process. As it happens, the next exercise consisted of us interviewing our neighbor for 5 minutes and then switching places with said neighbor. During this time, the two instructors were whispering to each other and paying no attention to how any of the interviews were going. No one was asked how their interviewee did. Instead, we just went on to the next segment, which was devoted to listening to one of the speakers read aloud the web addresses of the Internet resources listed on our handout.

All in all, not a great five hours.

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